It’s taken me a while to decide I finally wanted to write this blog. I’d have days where I found myself angry, and I’d want to write this purely out of frustration. But once I’d leveled with myself, I knew I had to write it, not fueled by the injustice I felt, but so others in similar situations might also find the strength to walk away.
Workplaces are tough. They’re full of people from different backgrounds who have gone through different experiences and have completely different personalities. On top of this, maybe your work consistently depends on the work of others, and you can’t get your job done until Sally finishes up her part. Unfortunately, Sally often finds herself unmotivated and waiting for the clock to hit 5, which means you’re sitting at your desk, glaring at her while she plays with her hair, still waiting for her to finish her work so you can start yours. There are 100 factors that make workplaces difficult.
However, there are an infinite amount of reasons that make workplaces healthy and fun places to be.
They’re great when you truly get along with your coworkers. For me, that means grabbing lunch a few times a week, turning on our baby water fountain behind our desks, talking about the weird guy in the same building who just stares at people, happy hour to talk about the stress we’re feeling, and occasionally going for walks together to cry under the “Tree of Sad.”
They’re great when you love what you do. They’re great when you can’t wait to tell your most difficult client that in only 3 days of launching their ads on $5 a day, they’ve received over 50 high quality leads for an expensive product. They’re great when, despite all of the chaos going on inside the office, your validation comes from clients emailing you just tell you “thank you.” Thank you for being patient as they tried to understand your reports. Thank you for taking your entire Saturday to put together last-minute ads that you just received creative for. Thank you for going the extra mile when no one asked you to.
They’re great when your manager is a leader and a mentor. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mentor a few years ago when I started work in the WNBA. I was thrown into a new city, sport, and environment, with 4 months of off-season projects that hadn’t been done for the season that was starting in 3 months. I slept in the office on more than one occasion. But through the chaos, I had my manager. I had my manager who trusted me and had faith in me to do a great job. I had my manager who, when I brought her a project I’d been struggling with, would say “Maria, why on earth did you put X here and Y there?” Not in a degrading way, but in a way that made me laugh with her and say, “You know, I have no idea. I’ll go fix it.” I’d come back, and she’d be over the moon with what I’d created. She was supportive of my vision for the franchise, and she trusted me to make it happen, and she was there to have my back whenever things fell apart. She was instrumental in the growth of my skillset, my self-confidence, and my attitude to just say “I’ve got this – let’s do something crazy and it’s going to work.”
There are a lot of reasons people stay at their organizations, even if it’s for the café downstairs that serves incredible breakfast burritos.
With all of this being said, it’s rare you find yourself in a place with collaborative coworkers, happy clients, and a supportive manager. It’s like one of those Venn diagrams from college, where you need to decide between having sleep, good grades, or having a social life. Except your professional life is different because you don’t have the ability to decide. And if you do have all three, that’s incredible, and I’m genuinely happy that you’ve found a healthy environment in which you flourish.
There are always going to be stressors at your job, and everyone has them. Whether it’s a co-worker who forgot to tell you about a report he needs for a client in 30 minutes, or it’s a vendor calling to tell you their printer broke down and they can’t deliver your programs for the game. Things happen, they’re forgiven, and tomorrow’s a new day.
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the taboos of the workplace that no one wants to talk about, or maybe there’s no HR. The taboos that show you, on a continual basis, that by simply being there and working for the organization, you’re supporting their actions and values, and you just can’t do that any longer.
Managers get angry – sure. Maybe you really messed up. But under no circumstance should your manager scream at you, degrade you, or publicly ridicule you in front of your colleagues. Managers are people with emotions, but there are expectations that come with their title, and those expectations include keeping emotions in check.
Verbal abuse is certainly bound to give you an emotional reaction, but emotional abuse is often more subtle. It’s your boss or co-worker continually giving you a hard time for never having a girlfriend. It’s a co-worker ripping apart your drawing when you’re taking a break to have a fun art competition. It’s a boss telling you that you’re not allowed to be on the phones because you’re too awkward [instead of teaching you]. It’s a boss telling you that you’re not allowed to say “hi” to Postmates who deliver his food because you’re too “enthusiastic.”
Sure, there are sexual harassment trainings and HR (usually) to shut down this sort of abuse. But sexual harassment doesn’t always need to be a co-worker knowingly placing his or her hand where it doesn’t belong. It can come in the form of your boss or co-worker making a sexual motion with his hands while you’re on the phone with a difficult client. It’s your boss telling you that his wife feels threatened by you as he laughs. It’s your boss telling everyone that the new intern should receive a sexual enhancement injection.
It’s a boss’ job to trust you. That’s why he or she hired you, right? Why would they hire someone they have no intention of trusting? It’s abusive for your boss to force you to reschedule an important doctor’s appointment that you had scheduled a month ago, even though it was first thing in the morning, simply because he may think you’re doing something else. It’s abusive for your boss to question your random sick day with the entire office behind your back, or even question it at all. That’s why they gave you sick days. It doesn’t matter if you got food poisoning, had a dentist appointment, or honestly just woke up not quite feeling yourself. You were given 5 sick days, and you don’t need to justify why you’re using them.
It’s okay for people to have different views and values, and that’s honestly the reason anything moves forward in the world. However, sometimes it becomes evident that there’s such a large disparity in the company’s and your values that it makes you feel like you support their values simply by working for them. It’s your boss laughing as he says it’s okay to sexually assault women, as long as they’re no younger than six years old. It’s your boss telling a client to “stop talking in that Muslim terrorist language” when the client had turned to talk to an employee. It’s abuse that is shown toward both employees and clients to look out for.
It’s your boss telling you he’s going to fire you if you talk to an ex-employee. It’s your boss asking everyone what they’re doing for Mother’s Day, stopping, and saying he doesn’t need to ask what you’re doing because you’re adopted, and you don’t have a real mom. It’s your boss screaming at you for sending him a draft that didn’t include a line of text, saying “no wonder your real mom threw you away.” It’s your boss putting a glass of scotch at your desk, locking the door, and telling you to meet him in the breakroom or he’ll fire you. It’s your boss sending a “We want to schedule an interview with you” email to every single applicant for an open position, then saying he has no intention of responding to anyone. It’s your boss negating the quality of your work in front of a client instead of in private. It’s your boss talking to employees behind their backs. It’s your boss making fun of the intern for having a hard time reading. It’s your boss asking you where you go for 30 minutes, every single day, when he knows damn well you’re at lunch.
There’s a lot people put up with in their workplaces, as demonstrated above. Some people think they’re strong for staying and putting up with it. Some people think they’re strong for saying enough is enough. Your definition of “strong” won’t be the same as the person next to you. And you’ll be ridiculed either way. Because if you stay, you’re telling people that you support a workplace with bad values. But you’re weak if you leave, and how on earth could you leave without a paycheck?
Either way, if you find yourself crying at your desk or in the bathroom because you just don’t feel good enough anymore, and your mindset falls on deaf ears, it’s probably not the place for you. You deserve a place in which you do feel supported, and you deserve a place that gives you the ability to work to your highest potential. Whether that means a place that has dogs running around, somewhere with free snacks, an office that’s quiet where no one talks, a chaotic start up, or somewhere that lets you work from a coffeeshop. Your “right” isn’t going to be Sally’s “right,” and there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just not your “right” place, but I promise you’ll find it.